Cinematic Releases: Color Out of Space (2020) - Reviewed

Films from Richard Stanley are always an interesting affair--oftentimes they are messy with the technical aspects, but big on style and creativity. He has also had quite a bit of trouble getting his films funded and finished on time. Color Out of Space (2020) had many delays as well, with the project initially being announced way back in 2013. Is this movie worth the wait?

This film is based on a 1927 H.P. Lovecraft tale called The Colour Out of Space and it updates the story to modern day. The family is still into farming, but they are city folk who have decided to move away from the hustle and bustle and live out in the country. Nathan Gardner (Nicolas Cage) and his wife and two kids are living a peaceful existence until a meteorite crashes into their front yard one night emitting an otherworldly magenta glow. This "glow" seems to affect the local flora and fauna, mutating it in bizarre ways. It's only a matter of time before the Gardner family gets caught up in the phenomena.

The first act of the film gets off to a rocky start with sluggish pacing and some dated characterization that betrays its long gestation period. The acting feels a bit off and stilted and the dialogue underwritten. After the meteorite lands it picks up quite a bit and the narrative smooths out and becomes extremely compelling as the family deals with the fallout of the magenta glow. Richard Stanley's films often feel disjointed in this way, but when the horror starts ramping up he imbues it with manic energy that never lets up. Lovecraft's work is often described as "cosmic horror" and this version of Color Out of Space understands that aesthetic perfectly. The audience is never fully privy to what exactly is going on, and there is a lot of mysterious events that add to a general feeling of unease. Cage's performance is rather restrained for the most part though he does get some choice quotes in the latter half of the film.

Where this movie excels are the visuals and the music. There is some gnarly body horror with high quality practical effects and the third act boasts some of the trippiest psychedelic visuals committed to celluloid. It's an absolute kaleidoscopic explosion of pure madness and well worth the price of admission. Composer Colin Stetson's score is an atonal screeching piece of noise work with searing strings and foreboding bass frequencies echoing the insane visuals. It's difficult to capture on film the way Lovecraft uses fear, as he is more about letting the reader use their imaginations. Once you have to depict these terrors they often lose their impact, and Stanley seems to understand this visual language deeply. He's not afraid to add some humorous touches as well. The ending will have chills running through one's entire body. While this isn't a perfect movie, especially in the writing department, it's an extremely intriguing genre film with some truly chilling moments.

--Michelle Kisner